For years, Phoebe Bridgers has been on an odyssey to the moon. She yearned for a spaceship to carry her away from a strained relationship on Boygenius’ 2018 self-titled EP; the trio’s full-length debut ends with Bridgers gazing at the full moon as she pulls away from her tormentor. On “Voyager,” the third song on Boygenius’ new EP, The Rest, Bridgers has finally landed. “Walking alone in the city/Makes me feel like a man on the moon,” she sings, taking stock of the journey. Her bandmates Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus are there with her, swaddling each lyric, cushioning each step, with hummed harmony. These are friends—the ones you tell your stories to, again and again, who stick around for every revision and new installment.
Friendship, famously, is Boygenius’ raison d’être and a key part of its value proposition. Kindred spirits who first met while making the rounds with their respective solo projects, Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus were eventually booked on a joint tour, precipitating their first EP together. Almost immediately, their union accumulated extramusical significance. Initially, it felt like wish fulfillment for those eager to pass off women playing rock as a newsworthy event; ultimately, it settled into an extended counterpoint to heteropatriarchal ideas about feminine friendship and cooperation, and to the notion of genius as an attribute of erratic (male) individualists. (When a prominent contemporary embodiment of that idea recently used Boygenius as the setup for a cheap joke, Dacus minced no words.)
Over the pandemic, seeking companionship and a creative outlet, the band got back together to write and record a proper debut—The Record, released this March. Six months later, they’re following it with The Rest, a four-song companion EP aglow with the sense of triumph that has haloed the group’s recent history. Boygenius are about as big as a rock band can be in 2023: They’ve landed an album in Billboard’s Top 10, received second-line billing at Coachella (“I’ve never played a festival when the sun was down,” Baker quipped), and, earlier this month, sold out Madison Square Garden. Their shows incite rapture; all three women are queer, a clear subtext and surtext of their performances, which has solidified their tour’s reputation as a welcoming space for sapphic expression.
With Boygenius’ tour wrapping at the end of the month, The Rest bookends this period of transcendence, its title containing a note of finality as well as of respite. The songs feel unwound; on the cover, the boys are faceless figures before a misty sea, soaking in the sublime, like in a Caspar David Friedrich painting. Unlike many post-album clearing-house EPs, this material is brand new, produced in May with returning collaborators (Tony Berg, Ethan Gruska, Collin Pastore) along with affiliates of the members’ solo projects. The songs revisit old themes, like Bridgers’ lunar voyage, with clear eyes and renewed spirits. Baker reconsiders the black hole that appeared on The Record’s “Not Strong Enough”—there, a symbol of domestic unrest; here, one of unexpected potential. “You can see the stars/The ones the headlines said this morning/Were being spat out /By what we thought was just/Destroying everything for good,” she sings over a steady pedal point, referencing a recently discovered supermassive black hole that mysteriously produces new stars instead of obliterating old ones. This cosmic twist on the notion that destructive forces can be generative calls to mind another lyric from The Record. To quote Dacus quoting Leonard Cohen: “There’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”
The Rest closes its fist around the ideas that Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus have been reaching toward—that values are more worth living than dying for, that our feelings of difference and dysfunction can be fonts of power. When an idealogue with a death drive appeals to Dacus’ narrator on “Afraid of Heights,” she voices her skepticism: “Not everybody gets the chance to live a life that isn’t dangerous.” As usual, the members take turns up front, each leading songs that bear the hallmarks of their own writing, and “Afraid of Heights” is classic Dacus—a writer first and musician second, by her own estimation. In her hands, steady, soft acoustic strums and pedal steel are like pale blue lines on loose leaf, waiting to be filled. She spreads her ideas across pages rich with dialogue and imagery, including the tidy, perfect couplet, “The black water ate you up/Like a sugarcube in a teacup.” It’s part of a parable about hope: “Oh, it hurts to hope the future/Will be better than before,” she sings. Expect nothing and the worst you’ll get is validation; expect more, and you’ll be crushed.
Boygenius is sometimes billed as “sad girl” music, a dubious classification born of Spotify playlists and social media’s bad habit of aestheticizing mental illness. It’s only marketing, but it still threatens to sand down the contours of the band’s music, which is full of emotions not so easily parceled and labeled (nor managed) as “sadness”—and, often, not so sad after all. As Bridgers has observed, this reductive interpretation involves a certain amount of projection on the part of fans. Such is the nature of producing art for public consumption: Songs are made, released, and then made into something else in the ears of their listeners.
The band’s relationship to its ballooning audience is not uncomplicated, but certainly Boygenius respect the power of their platform. Anyone in their position would be grappling with the question of what they mean, to whom—a line of inquiry that can give way to self-mythologizing. This instinct has always been present in a band that’s styled itself as both Crosby, Stills & Nash and Nirvana, but in these songs, it starts to feel less self-conscious, more sincere. It’s in the internal references, the leitmotifs—an emergent iconography of Boygenius. It’s definitely in The Rest’s closer, “powers,” a Baker-led superhero origin story set to sonorous brass and ambient texture. She sings about crawling out of a nuclear reactor, about supercolliders and fission, invoking the invisible, unknowable forces that govern our universe as a metaphor for profound transformation. “The hum of our contact,” she concludes, summarizing the Boygenius ethos, “The sound of our collision.” Her words suggest preciousness, but also ephemerality: When particles collide in an accelerator, they erupt into ultra-rare bits of matter that linger for only a split second before breaking down. We are called to look closely while they last.
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